The European Tour visits many spectacular destinations during a season but Leopard Creek Country Club on the border of Kruger National Park is undoubtedly among the very best.
The unique setting, with the aptly named Crocodile River separating the course from the park, is a wildlife dream and offers more than the usual bunkers for hazards.
Derek Muggeride, Maintenance Director at Leopard Creek, has been here for 11 years and has been lucky enough to witness some wonderful scenes, with the odd close encounter.
“You come across wildlife a lot,” he explained. “We are fenced from the Kruger Park so the elephant, buffalo and larger animals can’t come through, but we do have a leopard that can come in or over the fence on a tree. So in the evenings there is a chance you can see them and there was one which came in recently.”
Indeed, Darren Clarke was among those who saw a leopard this week as he made his way back to his lodge, fortunately in the safety of his car.
Crocodiles also make their way into the property from the park and on a regular basis, when they get too large after feeding on the plentiful fish here, they have to be caught and released. Snakes are another hazard, although rarely on the playing areas or during day time, but Muggeridge did have one close call.
“I was driving along with my foot hanging out of the golf cart and looking where the next hole is when I felt something hook on my leg, I looked down and thought it was a bag or something but it was a black mamba hooked on my foot. I had hooked onto it driving along the cart path. Fortunately it slipped off and was spinning on the path behind me.
“But most of the wildlife move away very quickly. We have had pythons on the side of the course which have eaten young buck and you can watch it eat it and swallow it. It is amazing to be that close to the wildlife. But it is a safe place to play golf as the animals do move away.”
The view from the 13th green is one of the finest in all world golf, and players often pause to take in the vista.
“It is unique having the African bush like this,” continued Muggeridge. “I have been on the 13th when there have been herds of elephant and buffalo and it is like Jurassic Park. It is unbelievable and you don’t expect it. You play to that green and it is not until you get there that you get this panorama."
As well as the human guests, housed in properties screened by the bush, there have been one or two familiar residents of the animal variety. There was a hippo that lived in the lake by the 16th that sadly died in September having made the lake its home for 20 years. And then there were two giraffe that got up to a bit of mischief.
“They had a habit of rubbing their stomachs on the flagsticks!” said Muggeridge. “They would walk onto the green and right over the flagstick and then walk around the hole rubbing their stomachs on the flag until it fell over and then they would go to the next green. We actually had flagsticks in the bush to try and encourage them to go there. Then we tried roping around the greens to keep them off the greens but that was not ideal for the members. There were times I was in the clubhouse and we would see them coming down the eighth and ninth and you knew you had to get to the green before them and get the rope up before thy walk on the green.”
Where else do you face challenges like that?